Authors: Angela Roquet
DEATH AT FIRST SIGHT
A SPERO HEIGHTS NOVEL
Copyright © 2016 by Angela Roquet
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover photography by Taria Reed/The Reed Files
Cover design by Angela Roquet
For my dad, who taught me that anything
worth having was worth working for.
by Angela Roquet
Death at First Sight
Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc.
Pocket Full of Posies
For the Birds
Hellfire and Brimstone (October 2016)
Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc. short stories
Off the Beaten Path
Hair of the Hellhound
Badass and the Beast
(holiday short story)
DEATH AT FIRST SIGHT
“Now we know why you got such a good deal on the place.” Selena stuffed her hands inside the pockets of her fur jacket and burrowed her chin into the fluffy collar. The wind mussed her short tufts of auburn hair and frosted the silver studs clustered down the ridge of her right ear.
A heavy moon hung in the sky, lighting the rooftop of the abandoned factory. The building slouched at the end of a road it shared with a few smaller, equally dilapidated buildings. They looked like they were decomposing back into the wilderness. Beyond the few structures and the road, a forest spread as far as the eye could see.
“Don’t be a spoilsport.” Dr. Delph shook Selena’s shoulder and gave Graham a tight smile as he shielded his watery eyes from the wind. “Anything worth having is worth working for.” His optimism was usually more sincere, but the amount of labor this place would require was intimidating by anyone’s standards.
Graham beamed anyway. His elation couldn’t be contained, and his canines glowed in the moonlight. “You don’t have to tell me the toils you see in my future, old friend. I’m hardly young enough to afford naivety anymore.” He perched on the edge of the roof, leather duster billowing at his knees, and surveyed the lot below as if visualizing what could be—what
be. Dr. Delph had seen it already, through the invisible eye nestled in his mind.
“Can you afford
after buying this dump?” Selena grumbled. Her gaze tugged upward to the pregnant moon and she shuddered. She would have to leave soon to fulfil her lunar need.
Graham smirked. “Elbow grease is rather cheap these days.”
Selena rolled her eyes. “At least the forest looks nice.”
“I knew the hunting ground would appeal to you,” Graham said with a grin. “The factory needs renovation, and then it should help generate substantial revenue for future development.”
“You’re going to reopen the factory? And what? Manage it at night?” Selena’s cynicism, not to mention her attitude, was always worse near the full moon.
“I’ve hired a human for that task. I imagine I’ll be up to my eyeballs in paperwork for some time to come.”
Selena’s brows dropped into an unamused line. “A human?”
“He’s, how do they say, smarter than the average bear? Plus, he has substantial personal investment in this project. His wife will be the first patient admitted into Christian’s rehabilitation center.”
“Your first patient is a human?” She turned to scowl at Dr. Delph.
“No. She’s just married to one.” His hand found her shoulder again. “And have you forgotten that I’m human too?”
Selena shrugged him off. “If you say so.”
Dr. Delph didn’t have time to take offense. “We’re not alone,” he whispered, turning his back to the others to peer across the rooftop behind them.
A shadow lingered near the far edge of the roof, defying the moonlight that spilled across the open space. It grew denser as it approached. Graham’s lips peeled back into a silent snarl, and Selena cinched in her shoulders, lifting her fists into a boxer’s stance. Dr. Delph went still. His eyes filled with white light and his breath came out in a frosty puff.
The shadow thickened, and then it split. It curled outward and a pale figure stepped into the moonlight. She couldn’t have been but fifteen when she’d died, but if her Victorian nightdress hadn’t given away her true age, her eyes would have. Bottomless black pupils stared out at the new arrivals with curious contemplation.
Graham’s snarl subsided. “Well, this certainly wasn’t in the brochure.”
“I told you the deal was too good to be true,” Selena hissed.
Dr. Delph still hadn’t moved. His silver hair lay over the shoulder of his jacket, suddenly untouched by the winds thrashing across the rooftop.
“Child,” he said calmly. “Are you alone here?”
The spirit blinked at him. “Have you come for me? Is it time?”
Dr. Delph swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes closed, and she let out a mournful sound. The building trembled with her presence.
Dr. Delph glanced back at Graham. “I think your friend’s wife will have to wait.”
Lia lay awake in bed, her face upturned and eyes squeezed shut. She didn’t need an alarm clock to know that the sun was rubbing elbows with the horizon. Dawn would break any second now. The hitch in her heart rate told her that much. Her breath grew shallow and her skin clammy as she waited.
She tried to imagine what her mornings might be like if she were normal. The fantasy was a simple one, but with precise details—the sun greeting her through gauzy curtains pushed aside by a warm breeze, children giggling in the distance, someone’s moist breath tickling her neck.
A breakfast scene followed, with a checkered tablecloth, steaming cups of coffee, and buttermilk pancakes drenched in maple syrup—the real kind, like her father used to make, not the generic crap that Saunders delivered every Wednesday. An imaginary, blissfully happy family would join her at the table. A slew of children would bicker over whose stack of pancakes was tallest, while her pretend husband winked at her over the rim of his coffee cup.
Lia wondered if anyone actually had mornings like that. Then she wondered if she had just seen one too many Folger’s commercials. Her breath steadied long enough for her to expel a disheartened grumble, and then the sun broke the sky.
She couldn’t see it through the boarded up window of her bedroom, but that never seemed to make a difference. Her back bowed and she knotted her fists in the bedsheets, trying to hold herself in place. Pain spiked through her brain in two lines that began in her eye sockets and felt like they exploded at the back of her skull. The room tilted sideways and she was thrown to the floor.
Lia panted against the weathered hardwood as her mind split open, her consciousness stretching out for miles and miles until it crumbled at the edges like a pie crust rolled too thin. Her breath ached in her lungs, and a hoarse whisper slipped past her lips before she braced herself for the main event.
The faces came next. They poked holes through her fragile mind, searing their swan songs into her memory as she pre-lived their final moments. She never recognized them, but each one left a scar.
The first was a boy on a skateboard. He glanced over his shoulder—a split second before a van smeared him across the blacktop. Lia strained to pick out details, like the van’s license plate, but the letters blurred at the edge of her sight. The street sign was easier to read, even with the streak of blood running down one side. Someone screamed, but it was drowned out by the shrill horn of a nearby train.
The scene spun away from Lia as if she were on a merry-go-round, and then there was an old man, clutching his chest in a tattered recliner, a television remote squeezed in his opposite hand. For a second, Lia could hear the channels clicking through too quickly in the background. A blue and orange lunch tray lay upside down on cheap carpet, the letters LV stamped into the plastic.
Last, she saw a woman reading in a park. There was a concrete bridge behind her, leading to a wide lawn where a dog show was taking place. Lia smelled lavender perfume and felt the aged paper under her own fingers as the woman turned the pages of a novel. A man watched her from the shadows, but she didn’t notice until it was too late. Then there was gunfire and blood on the grass.
Lia pressed her cheek into the hardwood and her eyes closed tighter as if she could block the image out. Her body shivered, drumming her shoulders and knees against the floor. And then, just as suddenly as the nightmare had begun, it was over. Her mind rolled back in on itself, feeling loose and too large for her head. The visions’ parting gift was a migraine from hell.
The nameless faces were still there, their deaths imprinted on her as if she’d experienced them firsthand, but she’d learned a long time ago to distance herself from them as quickly as possible. They were all strangers, and that was her only comfort. Every morning. For the past twenty years.
She pulled her aching body up off the floor and shuffled through the small house without flipping on any lights. It seemed a neat trick, unless she thought too long on how she’d come by it. It had been nearly a decade since she’d been out in the world—out of the house even.
Once in the bathroom, Lia stripped out of her tee shirt and shorts. She left the lights off as she stepped into the shower stall and turned the water on as hot as she could tolerate it. Steam filled her lungs, but the chill in her core was hard to shake. She turned into the harsh spray coming from the rusty showerhead and let it wash the tears and snot from her face. Then she took the bar of soap from the plastic ledge along the top of the stall and pretended she was a normal person for a few minutes.
Her eyes still hurt too much, even after she’d dried off and put on her robe, but she went ahead and clicked on the small lamp by the back door in the kitchen. As she filled a tea kettle and put it on the stove, the sound of keys jingled outside. Lia couldn’t see her caller through the blacked-out window that overlooked the porch, but she didn’t have to. Only one person ever visited her.
Her heart raced, filling with dread a second time as she shielded her eyes. The porch door opened and quickly closed again.
Garrett Saunders was a handsome man with broad shoulders and a confident gait. His dark hair was peppered with the beginnings of forty, and his muscled limbs colored richly from the sun. He was made for the crisp, blue uniform he wore like a second skin. He rattled a bottle of pills and set it on the counter with a tight smile.
Lia opened a cabinet with shaking hands to retrieve a glass. She filled it halfway at the tap before prying the bottle open and dumping three pills in her hand. She swallowed them and refilled her glass before slumping down at the kitchen table.
A few moments later, the stress lines creasing her face faded. The pressure in her head muted to a dull throb, and her breath rolled from her lungs with more ease.
Saunders stayed near the door, shifting from one foot to the other with both hands on his belt. “Let’s have it, Lia. I got a lot on my plate today.”
It was a familiar routine. Saunders showed up every morning, ready to exchange a bottle of pain pills for her visions. That was the deal—at least the one he reminded her of most often. The other deal, the one he didn’t mention unless she rubbed him wrong, was that she could live in his dead mother’s home, all expenses paid, as long as she never stepped foot outside.
Saunders cleared his throat, her last cue before things would turn ugly between them and he’d skimp on her Wednesday delivery of essentials—all the best off-brand crap one could get for twenty bucks or less.
Lia wet her lips and tried to recall the traumatic details without letting her voice crack. Saunders was unaffected by her
, as if her tears were a ploy for his sympathy. “Late morning, Tenth and Hawthorn, a boy on a skateboard is hit by a white van.”
“Late morning?” Saunders scoffed. “Well, that sure narrows it down.”
Lia closed her eyes and frowned, trying to pick through the details for something useful. “A train is passing nearby, right after it happens.”
Saunders shrugged. “Guess I could send a couple of the boys over there to check on the signage before their coffee break. Might get lucky.”
Lia moved on. “Around lunchtime, an old man has a heart attack—I think he’s in a retirement home, something with the initials LV.” She paused and looked up at Saunders.
“Might be Lakeview,” he said, folding his arms across his chest, right below the embroidered sheriff’s badge of his uniform.
“He had a white mustache and a gray beard, if that helps.”
Saunders shrugged. “Old folks whose time is up don’t concern me much. Let’s stick to the homicides.”
Lia sucked in a sharp breath and turned away from him, focusing on the daffodil curtains hanging over the boarded up bay window. She wondered if the late Mrs. Saunders had picked them out herself. She wondered if her son would have bothered trying to save her if Lia had been around to predict her demise.
“Tick tock, girl,” Saunders snapped.
Lia flinched. “Afternoon, a woman reading in a park is shot by a man. She’s wearing a green dress, and he’s in black slacks and a white shirt. He’s wearing sunglasses. Dark hair. Clean shaven.”
Saunders perked at the shooting. It would look fancier on his resume than the other two incidents. “What park?”
She shrugged and took a sip of her water. “There’s a bridge and a dog show going on.”
“I didn’t see anything else.”
“Okay then. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Saunders slipped back out through the kitchen door.
Lia didn’t close her eyes this time. Morning light creased the sky through the woods that lined the backyard. It was pink and orange, making the trees look like they were on fire. She vaguely wondered if her brain would explode should something that catastrophic ever happen in Barton County. Then she almost wished for it, because this was no way to live.